(Reuters) – A suicide car bomber killed 13 people and wounded dozens near government buildings in the mainly Sunni Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday, police and hospital sources said.
The attack came as Iraqi political leaders moved toward forming a new government and just days before one of the most religious days for Shi’ites.
A police official and a hospital source said 13 people were killed and 41 wounded in the blast in western Anbar province, once a stronghold of the al Qaeda Islamist militant group.
Hikmet Khalaf, the deputy governor of Anbar, said the blast in central Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, targeted a complex in which the provincial council is based. He put the toll at seven dead and 25 wounded.
“It (the explosion) was at a crowded crossroad. There were civilian vehicles passing and it is also the entrance to the main government offices,” said Khalaf.
“They are criminals from al-Qaeda. Who else besides them would do something like killing innocent people?”
The sprawling desert province of Anbar was the heartland of a Sunni Islamist insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Its main cities, Ramadi and Falluja, witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
But local Sunni tribal chiefs turned on al Qaeda, helping U.S. forces bring relative peace to the region.
Last December, twin suicide blasts killed at least 24 and wounded more than 100 just outside the provincial government headquarters in Ramadi. The governor of Anbar province was critically wounded in one of the attacks, but survived.
A police source said a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the office complex, which also houses the police headquarters for the province and other government buildings.
A simultaneous explosion took place nearby at a bus terminal, two police sources said. One source said it was a roadside bomb and one policeman had been injured, while the other said it was the controlled explosion of a bomb.
Iraq has been without a new government since an inconclusive election in March, and the country’s main factions argued for months before reaching a deal last month that includes all major parties.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was formally charged on November 25 to put together a cabinet and had 30 days to deliver according to a constitutional deadline.
Although overall violence in Iraq has declined from the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-7, bombings and attacks still occur daily.
Sunday’s attack occurred just days before Ashura, the Shi’ite religious commemoration of the slaying of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in 680 AD. The event defines Shi’ism and its rift with Sunni Islam.